Music for Theatre Plays (1931–1960)

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Opis materiału
  • Composer:Witold Lutosławski
  • Original title: Muzyka do spektakli teatralnych (1931–1960)
  • year of completion: 1960
  • instrumentation: various
  • commission: Teatr Polski w Warszawie, Teatr Narodowy, Teatr Rozmaitości w Warszawie, Teatr Współczesny w Warszawie, Teatr Polski w Poznaniu

Lutosławski was for years keenly interested in theatre. However, he preferred to be a spectator rather than a composer of incidental music; he treated his work for the theatre more like a source of income and less like an opportunity for artistic expression. The number of his theatrical works is rather modest, especially in comparison with the oeuvre of some of his colleagues (e.g. Tadeusz Baird). Perhaps none of Lutosławski’s musical illustrations fulfils the requirements of an autonomous work, with the exception of his music to a dance scene in Janusz Makarczyk’s play Haroun al-Rashid (1931). The composer later arranged it as a separate orchestral dance, which, however, has not survived.

Lutosławski’s work for the theatre began in 1948 and ended definitively in 1960. During that period the composer wrote music to around 15 productions (mainly for Warsaw theatres), including Wyspiański’s Cid after Corneille, Lorca’s Blood Wedding, Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night and The Merry Wives of Windsor, collaborating with distinguished directors like Leon Schiller, Edmund Wierciński and Erwin Axer.

The artistic status of these productions is reflected in spectators’ accounts. After the premiere of Alfred de Musset’s Lorenzaccio directed by Wierciński (Teatr Polski in Warsaw, 25 June 1955), Maria Dąbrowska wrote in her Diary: “The performance of Lorenzaccio was of the highest quality. [...] I was filled with almost stupefying admiration for the staging. Teresa Roszkowska [set designer – M.K.] is a genius. The images from this tragedy played like animated paintings by the greatest 15th and 16th century masters. The scene at the market was breathtaking. The scene in the painter’s workshop – the light – the colours – sheer Vermeer. Kreczmar was an excellent rogue cardinal, Hańcza (I like this actor more and more) a fine brute of a Renaissance prince, buphthalmic Wołłejko charming and slightly irritating as usual. [...] I was particularly taken with Lutosławski’s musical ‘interludes’.”


The form and style of the composer’s musical illustrations are entirely subordinated to the requirements of the stage. The instrumentation never exceeds that of a small theatre orchestra with some voices added to it in some cases. Like other branches of functional music (perhaps with the exception of mass songs), music for the theatre was used by Lutosławski to experiment, with the results of his experiments being subsequently included in his autonomous works. A special role was played by the composer’s experiments with shaping the dramaturgy by means of recurring motifs. As his sketches show, the arrangement of repeated signals and refrains from Symphony No. 3 (1983) had its precursor in the “interludes” from the incidental music to Lorenzaccio.